New judicial commission on mental health launched
The commission, launched by the Kentucky Supreme Court, will focus on mental health, substance use and intellectual disabilities. It will work to improve the practice, quality and timeliness of the judicial response to cases involving these needs.
“I’m proud that the Kentucky Court of Justice is joining with other state courts in addressing the growing mental health crisis within the justice system,” Chief Justice John Minton, Jr. said “The Judicial Branch is uniquely positioned to bring stakeholders together to develop solutions to improve access to and outcomes for justice-involved individuals with mental and behavioral health needs.”
Chief Justice Minton recognized the significant role county jails play in the treatment of mental health, often serving as default treatment centers when those in crisis are incarcerated.
“Our prisons and our county jails, without question, are the largest providers, sadly, of mental health services in the state,” Minton said.
According to research from the U.S. Department of Justice, 44 percent of inmates in local jails nationally had a history of mental illness – more than double the percentage of adults in the total U.S. population experiencing mental illness in 2020.
Currently, there are more than 22,000 inmates housed in county jails in Kentucky.
The commission will include members from the judicial and legal communities, the juvenile, criminal and child protection systems, the legislature, the business community, organizations with substantial interest in mental health matters and other state and local leaders who have demonstrated a commitment to mental health issues affecting Kentuckians.
Supreme Court Justice Debra Lambert, a certified suicide prevention trainer and former Drug Court judge, will chair the commission.
“I’m excited to focus on mental health and substance use cases, but this will also be the first time there will be an all-hands-on-board effort to assess and improve the way the court handles intellectual disabilities,” Justice Lambert said. “And no group this broad and with this many resources has ever come together to tackle all three of these important issues.”
Gov. Andy Beshear lauded the creation of the commission, emphasizing the impact the pandemic has had on mental health and substance abuse.
“If the last two-and-a-half years have shown us anything, it’s that suffering and trauma are real,” Beshear said.
The Commission will meet for the first time Sept. 22.